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February - Fabulous, Flavorful Dill
"Nice cheerful Dill - so easy to grow
Is a household friend but did you know
That long ago he played a part
As assistant to the enchanter's art?
Well - times have changed -
Fortune is fickle -
Now he provides
The soul of the pickle."
L. Young Correthers
One good thing I can definitely say about February is that it's short. February weather can be extreme - remember the Blizzard of 78? Now is a good time to think about planting and spend time in a nice, warm greenhouse, dreaming of spring. It's time to start many of the herbs and other plants that you may want to round out your garden, especially perennials and early vegetables.
Dill (Anthemis graveolens) is an herb that more people should know and grow. It really is an easy herb to start with, as it sows readily right in the garden. You can start it ahead of time inside if you want, but it is sometimes tricky to transplant. Just broadcast the seed in a prepared bed, or grow it in rows, if you prefer. I think it looks better in clumps, and if it gets too tall, you can always tie it up if it is growing closely together. Once you sow dill, it will readily self sow the following year, unless you ruthlessly cut off all the seed heads.
Dill has been designated the 2010 Herb of the Year by the International Herb Association. This lovely, ferny plant has been in use for thousands of years. It was purportedly one of the herbs used by Egyptian doctors 5000 years ago. It has been used by many to calm infants, and as a cure for whooping cough. It was also believed to be an effective protector against evil spirits and witchcraft. An old English adage was:
"Trefoil, Vervain, Johns Wort, Dill
Hinder witches of their will"
Last year I planted both the Bouquet and Fernleaf varieties in my garden. Dill can grow anywhere from 2' to 5', depending on the type. Fernleaf was supposed to be a shorter form of the plant, about 20". It grew to the same height as Bouquet, and they were between 24 to 36 inches. Next year I plan to grow some different varieties, such as Dukat and Goldkone Tetraploid, which are slower to go to seed. Dill can be grown for its seed, and is used extensively today in the pickle industry. However, it is a very flavorful herb, and I love the leaves chopped up in salads, and as an ingredient in dips, potato salad, omelettes, etc. Once dill sets its seed heads, the leaf production stops. The flowers themselves are beautiful in arrangements, and also are great for pressing.
Here's a recipe that is called Fool's Boursin - a creamy and rich spread that is best made with fresh herbs (though you can use dried, just decrease the amount of herbs by two thirds).
2 - 8 oz. packages cream cheese
1/2 lb. unsalted butter
1 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
2 finely minced garlic cloves
1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Soften butter and cream cheese and combine well. Mix in herbs and Worcestershire. Serve with crackers or small rounds of bread.
Dill also attracts the Tiger and Black Swallowtail caterpillars - between dill and fennel, it's caterpillar heaven! Be sure to plant extra dill so you can share with these colorful critters.
Stay warm, enjoy the increasing sunlight, and get ready for spring!